Following in Korean baseball’s footsteps, at least in our eyes, another sports league on foreign shores is set to return this weekend. That’s the German Bundesliga, which will attempt to finish out its season, behind closed doors, in the coming weeks. “Attempt” is important here, as much like the KBO, everything is on a tightrope. One second-league team, Dynamo Dresden, is going to be quarantined for the next two weeks as a few of their players tested positive for coronavirus. Where they’ll fit in the fixtures they’ll miss is still up in the air. Other players in the top flight have tested positive, but those teams haven’t been quarantined, just the players. So what happens if more players test positive over the coming week is a mystery.
But as of now, football will return to Deutschland. Here’s everything you need to know.
Germany was outfront in Europe when it came to shutdowns and testing, though that doesn’t mean they haven’t seen their share of misery. Almost 8,000 have already died and some 175,000 have been infected.
Worse yet, since starting to reopen the country, Germany has seen its infection rate creep back over an R0 of 1.0, which means that every person infected is spreading the virus to more than one other person. It would hardly be a surprise if the country needs to go into lockdown again before the Bundesliga season can be completed.
All right, with that out of the way, isn’t Bayern Munich just going to win this again?
You’re only saying that because they’ve won the last seven titles, currently hold a four-point lead, haven’t lost a game since Dec. 7 (which would have been impressive before the shutdown), have the world’s leading scorer, have the most expensive and best squad in the league, and are no worse than the third-best team in the world.
It’s going to take something for Munich to fuck this up. Perhaps the leading cause for hope for anyone looking for anything resembling change at the top is that the Munich squad does skew a bit on the old side. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Thomas Mueller, and Robert Lewandowski all are on the wrong side of 30, and it’s impossible to know how an unexpected two-month break and then a very staggered and short return to training will affect their performances. A small break would have been beneficial, but an elongated one?
But even that might be fantasy. Neuer hasn’t been up to his usual standards in a while, and pretty much if every other one of the gray beards went off the boil Munich would have an answer. Except for Lewandowski, who has 25 goals in 23 league games played and 39 goals in 33 games played overall. You simply can’t reproduce that kind of contribution. His head would have to fall off before Munich thought about dropping him, and they don’t have anyone who can take up a central striking role nearly as well. If you squint you could see them somewhat struggling for goals if Lewandowski still has a musty smell after the enforced hiatus.
Of course, Munich also has the league joint-meanest defense with Leipzig, and the metrics suggest they haven’t been lucky in any way to get there. In addition to that, Munich’s remaining schedule is pretty kind. They have a trip to Dortmund, but that won’t be as daunting with no fans in the stands. Other than that, matches against Leverkusen and Monchengladbach are the only other ones that could be argued to be banana skins. It’ll take some doing to knock them off.
What about Dortmund? Don’t they have another cool American?
Sure do! Gio Reyna is just about as close as you can get to being a Yank soccer player created in a lab, as he’s the son of former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna and U.S. player Danielle Egan. Gio is only 17 but has become something of a super-sub for Dortmund, and there are many American fans who are already salivating at the thought of Reyna and Pulisic raining down terror from opposite sides on the national team.
Before we get there, Dortmund are currently Munich’s closest pursuers, four points back. However, putting too much faith in them would ignore the fact that they’re also the most likely team in the title race to repeatedly shoot themselves in the face while punching themselves in the dick. The following slate of February games gives you some idea of all that Dortmund are capable of: 5-0 win over Union Berlin, 3-2 loss to relegation-threatened Bremen, 4-3 loss to Leverkusen, 4-0 win Frankfurt. It’s never boring at Westfalenstadion, that’s for sure.
Dortmund might contain the most exciting nexus of players under 21 in Jadon Sancho and Erling Braut Haaland. Sancho has 14 goals essentially as a winger, and Haaland didn’t even show up until January and has nine goals in eight games. This might be Sancho’s swan song in the Bundesliga as he’s been widely tipped to return home to England to be the latest to start the revolution at Manchester United. Liverpool and Barcelona have also reportedly been sniffing around, so this is the level of talent and excitement we’re talking about. Haaland is still only 19, looks like Max Headroom came to life in a 6-4 body built for smashing the ball into the net. Haaland has incredible touch and instincts, but sometimes he doesn’t score goals so much as send the ball away in utter terror and sprinting toward the net for salvation.
Still, given Dortmund’s at-times hilariously untrustworthy defense and the fact that the metrics say they’re lucky to be scoring as much as they are, they’re a creaky bet to displace Munich atop the table.
What about Leipzig? Doesn’t everyone hate them?
Yes, everyone hates them because of their corporate ownership. Which must seem truly laughable to people in this country. The funny thing is that while everyone hates them as a club, there may not be a more enjoyable team to watch than RB Leipzig.
They’re five points behind Munich, with the second-best goal difference. They have the only other player to live in Lewandowski’s neighborhood in Timo Werner, who has 21 goals to his name. He might also be saying goodbye to the league after this, with a long-rumored romance with Liverpool finally coming to fruition. They also have a cool American in Tyler Adams, who plays everywhere from right-back to a #10, and sometimes in the same match.
Unlike Munich, this squad skews very young, with only outfield-regular over the age of 25. They’re less likely to be affected by the layoff. They’re managed by a borderline-genius in Julian Nagelsmann, who is only 32. Nagelsmann can form Leipzig into a few different formations, but the base of their play is that going up against them is like being attacked by bees for 90 minutes. They are fluid and relentless.
Leipzig also have probably the easiest run-in, at least until a date with Dortmund on the penultimate weekend of the season (if it happens). So if Lewandowski were to go cold and Werner not, Leipzig could rip off the six or seven in a row it would take to claim the title and send most of German football fans screaming into the woods and questioning all meaning for months on end. You should probably root for this.
What about the bottom?
Much clearer picture. Paderborn, Bremen, and Dusseldorf are basically boned. Paderborn are last, Bremen are only two points ahead of them and looking at relegation for only the second time in their history and first in 40 years. Dusseldorf are four points ahead of Bremen in the “playoff” spot (the 16th place finisher plays the 3rd place finisher from the second division with the winner going into the Bundesliga the following season) but four points behind Mainz for safety. It’s a steep climb.
It may not be around that long, so we should probably enjoy it for however long it is. If you can ignore the misery and death around it, that is.